‘Beds, Booze and Busybodies’ at Museum

August 12, 2015   ·   0 Comments

While Dufferin County may have had much smaller communities than many of the bigger areas of the province, there is still a rich and exciting history that has been a part of the county’s development.

We all know of the intensity that Prohibition caused in major cities following the first world war across the United States and in parts of Canada, but not many know that there was an earlier attempt at limiting access to alcoholic beverages.

In 1878, the Canadian Temperance Act was passed, providing an option for municipalities to opt-in by plebiscite to a prohibitionary scheme. Often known as the Scott Act, after its sponsor, Sir Richard William Scott, it basically gave voters in counties or local municipalities the power to choose whether their municipalities should be “dry” (alcohol-free).

Throughout Dufferin, there were multiple such votes in the early 1880s. The “Local Option” laws went in and out, and impacted many businesses, along with causing some mischief.

Orangeville and Shelburne were both “dry” until after the Second World War, when voters chose initially to allow the retail sale of liquor and beer and later to permit licensed bars and dining lounges.

This Saturday, the Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA) is inviting local residents to dive into the history of local attempts at prohibition with their evening event Beds, Booze and Busybodies, to be held at the museum.

“It’s going to be an all-encompassing event,” explained DCMA curator Sarah Robinson.

“There will be food tastings, beer and cider tastings, and talks about the history of hotels and taverns in Dufferin County, both before and after the Temperance Act. There was one thing after another that kept limiting liquor sales; it’s kind of scattered throughout time.”

In order to put together the event, a lot of research was involved, including gathering evidence from the history of local hotel and former tavern owners, correspondence from these owners and previous newspaper interviews.

These bits of information were then compiled together in order to form a snapshot of what they think the local temperance movement would have looked like.

“It’s a lot of what we like to call [our] detective work,” said Ms. Robinson. “There is a lot of conflicting evidence, which actually makes it more fun. While people do say that Dufferin County was completely dry at one point, it wasn’t. There was a definite underbelly of liquor sales and people drinking during that time.”

And while Dufferin itself was dry, adjacent Adjala wasn’t, and it was always possible to imbibe at the Loretto tavern.

One business that visitors to the DCMA event will get to hear about is the former American Hotel in Orangeville. Its history begins in November 1869, when resident George Wilcox purchased the property for a whopping $1000. The building changed ownership several times over the following seven years, before the first advertisement for the American Hotel ran in The Sun newspaper in 1876.

The building was then destroyed by a mysterious fire on June 1, 1877, and the cause has remained a mystery ever since. It was rebuilt in 1881, and operated as a hotel until 1931, when the last owner of the hotel sold the building.

It was then converted into a service station and garage. Since then, the building’s purpose has been altered several times, before eventually becoming a three-storey office building and current home of the Citizen.

During the times the Temperance Act was ‘enforced’, local hotels and taverns became far more than a place to grab a hot meal or rest while travelling.

They were known to be a hotbed of gossip, the centre for local politics, and even a place to be born or to die.

The Beds, Booze and Busybodies event will be held at the DCMA on Saturday, August 15, from 6 to 9 p.m.

Tickets are still available at a cost of $17 per person, and include food from The Globe Restaurant, beer tastings from Hockley Valley Brewery, and cider tastings from Spirit Tree.

Throughout the event, attendants will have an opportunity to check out the interesting artifacts, and learn about the underbelly of the county’s hotels and taverns, and how they played a role both before and after the Temperance movement. Along with the local food and beverage samplings, the evening will also include a raffle for a night’s stay for two at the B&B Foxingham Farm.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, contact


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